Citizen journal breaks a heroic story

A Chicago Tribune story begins, A car that got stuck on tracks in north suburban Glenview was hit by two Amtrak trains Saturday night, but no injuries were reported, authorities said. It ends, Glenview police were at the scene investigating, and details about the car and driver were not available, an officer said.

But there was an eyewitness: The blogger David Armano. He reports,

While riding my motorbike I pulled up to a red light adjacent to a train crossing minutes from my home in Glenview IL. Across the intersection I could make out a few teenagers running across the tracks. There was something on the tracks—it appeared to be a car, but I couldn’t be sure. The next thing I knew the train crossing lit up and the guards went down.

It all happened within seconds.

I saw 2 young men dash away from the car and literally dive into the weeds next to the tracks. They were holding something. SECONDS later—no more than 5 or so, TWO diesel trains ripped the car to shreds. It might have been a scene out of a movie. I pulled over my bike to where the teenagers were and two boys emerged from the weeds carrying an elderly woman. Turns out she mistakingly made a right turn on the tracks and ended up facing an ongoing train. Her car was stuck on the tracks and she was disoriented.

He adds,

I was there, and I captured what I saw with my own eyes via Twitter. There are some very special heroes out there that may be getting some attention from the press in the days to come. I went up to those young men and could only say this:

“You did something good here—you did the right thing”

He also provides the Twitter transcript where he reported it first.

Thanks for the pointage goes to Liz Strauss.

[Later...] I don’t know why, but WordPress doesn’t like something I’m doing with the last sentence above, or any sentence at the bottom of this post. So I’m not sure this one is going to make it, but anyway check out Jon Garfunkel’s comments, below. Shelley’s too.

10 comments

  1. Jon Garfunkel’s avatar

    Hmm. My sense is that the degree to which a story “breaks” is how many people here it first. I don’t know how many people read Armano’s Twitter feed.

    re:
    “You won’t find any of these details on the story that recently went up on the Chicago Tribune because they are most likely fact checking.”

    Well, Armano initially reported 2 kids, then 3 kids in Twitter. His blog post says two kids. WBBM Radio actually got the name of one and then interviewed him on-air, and is going with the story that he is the hero of the event.

    Did Armano contact the Tribune or local news outlets to give his account– or did he expect them to be trolling area blogs? There is no tag whatsoever defined for “breaking news.”

    I understand the potential power of a super-connected average citizen to get the word out to a mass audience. But the rest of us should do well to learn, and store, the phone numbers (natch, text-message addresses) for local media outlets in our mobile phones.

  2. Shelley’s avatar

    Actually, this is an example of why “citizen journalism” doesn’t work. It focuses on the sensational, the positive/happy thoughts. And then it leaves one confused about what is the story, because it changes.

    The Tribune went on to discuss the impact of this event on train schedules, which impacts more people.

    It’s not the sensational stories that are real journalism — anyone can be in any place and capture a ‘hot’ event. It’s the stories that take work, digging, interviews, research and that impact on broad numbers of people that are the true mark of journalism. It’s these types of stories we’re in danger of losing because of the focus on teen age heroes and daring rescues.

  3. Eric Norman’s avatar

    If someone is an eyewitness to such an event, I think their first responsibility is to make sure first responders are contacted. Their second is to provide assistance if needed. Their third is to make themselves available to investigators.

    After they’ve taken care of that, then maybe they can worry about who gets the “scoop”.

  4. David Armano’s avatar

    hmmm, not sure why telling the tale of witnessing someone’s life being saved would be sensationalistic. I stuck around for a little bit, and there were plenty of other eyewitnesses. After realizing no one was hurt, I left.

    I e-mailed the Tribune reporter who reported the news after the events and offered to speak to them. It turns out that one individual pulled the woman out of the car—but when I pulled up there were two of them helping her.

    The only thing I think this proves is that in addition to MSM, people will be telling first hand accounts through things like blogs, twitter etc. But we’ve already known that.

    This isn’t real journalism and I don’t think anyone would claim it to be (I wouldn’t). It just demonstrates that the average person can tell a story from there perspective. I was there, I saw what I saw and told that story. That’s all.

  5. Alec Muffett’s avatar

    >I don’t know why, but WordPress doesn’t like something I’m doing with the last sentence above

    Hi Doc – just an aside, but I found that WP 2.2.x sometimes gets confused when you have two BLOCKQUOTE sections closely adjacent to each other – or worse still when they are nested. My blogging got easier (if a little more fiddly) when I switched off the automatic HTML-correction feature, which was actively corrupting my text on occasion, rebalancing my blockquotes the wrong way round, and other stuff like that.

    I’m not sure whether this describes the problem, but I hope this helps.
    Alec.

  6. David Kearns’s avatar

    Nice story, except for that grating “citizen” journal stuff. I’m sure all the people involved – the ‘victims’, the cops, the reporters, the train’s engineer, all the people watching – were citizens of somewhere.

    In this case, though, it wasn’t even an ‘amateur’ (a perfectly good term) journalist – just someone passing by who saw the action. In the past, they would have called the TV/radio station, the newspaper, etc. to report the story. Today, that ‘honor’ evidently went to Twitter. That’s hardly the venue I’d choose to disseminate breaking news, but it would be a good place to put notes in a pinch.

    Still, my point is to plead, once again, for the demise of that horrible “citizen journalist” meme….

    -dave

  7. Liz Strauss’s avatar

    Aw Doc, why the focus on citizen journalism and not the focus — as David point’s out — on the oral history that’s been happening since time began?

    On our intellectual pursuits we can always find ways to disconnect our heads from our hearts. If any average person was there — say my mom — would you say she was wrong? What if she choose to use the telephone?

    David sent word on via email to the Tribune. He never claimed to be a reporter. He’s a person who was there telling others what he saw — aa sny feeling human being might in that circumstance.

    People have always told stories of what happened. Isn’t this just what this is. I still applaud him. I say the words again . . . oral history. Do we no longer have room for that?

    In the end, the word is still “hope.” I’m still glad to be human.

  8. Hal O'Brien’s avatar

    Shelley: “Actually, this is an example of why “citizen journalism” doesn’t work. It focuses on the sensational, the positive/happy thoughts. And then it leaves one confused about what is the story, because it changes.”

    And this differs from the legacy press how, exactly? What story is ever static? (aside possibly from the obituary page)

    David A.: “I was there, I saw what I saw and told that story. That’s all.”

    Hey, don’t put yourself down. That formula worked well enough for Ed Murrow.

    David K.: “Nice story, except for that grating “citizen” journal stuff. I’m sure all the people involved – the ‘victims’, the cops, the reporters, the train’s engineer, all the people watching – were citizens of somewhere.”

    I’ve known old fogey journalists who would disagree. The kind of guys who refuse to vote, because that would be a conflict of interest.

    Liz: “Aw Doc, why the focus on citizen journalism and not the focus — as David point’s out — on the oral history that’s been happening since time began?”

    Easy enough: It’s a strange but true fact that most journalism schools come out of the English dept., and not the History dept. This leads to two things:

    1) Journalists have never been as rigidly faithful to the facts as historians, pleading the pressures of time.

    2) Journalistic writing almost always has a narrative arc, with protagonists, antagonists, etc. It’s why “good news” is hardly ever given any press — it’s considered “boring,” and thus without “news value.” If you think about it, from a strictly objective point of view, that shouldn’t matter. (As David A. succinctly put it above: “I was there, I saw what I saw and told that story. That’s all.”) I’ve always agreed with Neal Stephenson’s piece in Wired a few years back calling for a regularized grid of video cameras all over the planet, randomly playing for about 10 seconds each, to demonstrate the average “news value” of a place is zero.

  9. Crosbie Fitch’s avatar

    The typical ‘news value’ may be zero, but the average is slightly higher.

    If you sold shares in each video camera where each camera could charge a proportionate fee to subscribers in the event of valuable news, I think you’d find quite a few cameras with very high values.

    And a few days ago the share prices of cameras in the Nevada desert would be well above zero – until someone figured out which cameras had interesting footage, and which didn’t.

    It’s all moot anyway.

    Everyone’s video camera will soon participate in an effective grid over the planet in proportion to interest.

    Imagine video phones continuously uploading footage to the local GoogleVideo wifi node. There are plenty of eyeballs and video processing algorithms able to find a few diamonds in the Niagara falls of banality.

  10. EMAC » Blog Archive » Toward a new ecology of journalism’s avatar

    [...] ‘citizen journalist’ meme’. Liz Straus, who pointed me to the story in the first place, said ‘Aw Doc, why the focus on citizen journalism and not the focus — as David point’s out — on [...]

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